Food security under threat

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. . . as 4 500 tonnes of fertile soil is lost to erosion every hour

Pascalinah Kabi

LESOTHO is losing 300 lorry loads of fertile soil every hour that are being carried away in rivers flowing into South Africa, with the country’s food security and livelihoods of farmers in jeopardy.

This was revealed in a joint statement released this week by the European Union, Water Commission and the Department of Water Affairs which also states that the major reason for the land degradation was over-exploitation of often fragile hills, wetlands and grasslands.

“For many years, Lesotho has been having problems with land degradation and erosion. Although erosion is a normal occurrence in mountainous areas, the extent of it in Lesotho has become dramatic,” EU Delegation Press and Information Officer Liatile Putsoa said.

“It is estimated that every hour, Lesotho is losing around 4 500 tonnes of fertile top soil (or up to 300 lorry loads) that are carried away in rivers flowing into South Africa.”

She said dongas (ravines with steep sides) at numerous hillsides were continuing to widen during each rainy season and farmland continued to disappear as the fertile soil was eroded.

Among the causes of the degradation was overgrazing by livestock, indiscriminate gathering of woody biomass for fuel, and unsustainable land-use practices.

“This has resulted in reduced agricultural production in the catchment areas, with less maize per hectare and less crop production overall,” said Ms Putsoa, adding that climate change was likely to accelerate these negative trends.

“The dams, which are meant to store water, are silting up, and the changes in water flow patterns are diminishing the hydropower potential in the country.”

She said the livelihoods of Basotho living off the land and the nation’s food security were in jeopardy despite the many concerted efforts to arrest the negative trend.

Ms Putsoa said the EU had engaged three experts who had been in the country since October 2015 to assist in the implementation of Lesotho’s Integrated Catchment Management (ICM) strategy. The trio, from the Netherlands and United Kingdom, were expected to finish its tour next month.

“As part of a European Union project in support of ICM in Lesotho, a team of three experts has been in the country since October 2015,” she said.

The project, said Ms Putsoa, was aimed at helping the government to implement its Long-Term Water and Sanitation Strategy which was promulgated in 2014 and puts great emphasis on ICM.

She said the three experts had been working in close collaboration with the Department of Water Affairs as the implementing agency, the Ministry of Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation as well as other line ministries.

“To help Lesotho address these challenges, the ICM team of experts has conducted several field visits, held consultation meetings and discussed in detail with national task teams on possible solutions, with an emphasis on ensuring the sustainability of ICM efforts,” Ms Putsoa said.

“At the end of February, and at the invitation of the German International Cooperation, a group comprised of eight officials from Lesotho, representing the Ministries of Water, Forestry, Range and Soil Conservation, Agriculture and Food Security, Local Government and Chieftainship Affairs, and the EU experts, went to Ethiopia for an EU funded week-long technical study tour.”

She added: “The team of participating officials and experts had the opportunity to discuss and share lessons on the similarities and contrasts in catchment management in the two countries.”

Ms Putsoa said both Ethiopia and Lesotho had similar terrains and land use practices, adding that both countries were facing similar land degradation and erosion problems.

“The team learned that, after many failures and mixed results, Ethiopia has found an approach to Sustainable Land Management (SLM) or ICM that can reverse the problems,” she said.

The team, Ms Putsoa noted, visited several communities which had introduced sustainable land-use practices by drastically changing grazing practices and introducing improved production methods.

“As a result, land degradation and erosion were greatly reduced, and many families increased their household incomes,” she said.

“These results followed on a strong leading role of the Ethiopian government, which had introduced clear guidelines on SLM or ICM.”

Ms Putsoa said the Lesotho team was expected to make a presentation on the lessons learnt during the tour tomorrow at the Water Sector Coordination Forum in Maseru.

“The three ICM experts will also report on what needs to be done in Lesotho on future ICM planning and organisation, the delineation of catchments and the development of related legal frameworks and capacities, to enable similar progress to be made here,” she said.

“There will also be presentations made by other agencies that are involved in various initiatives that are related to integrated catchment management in Lesotho, so as to share the experiences, challenges and lessons learned for undertaking ICM.”

 

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